Big Brother & Vancouver: My Thoughts on Crowd Surveillance

As the dust settles from Vancouver’s riots, a controversy brews.
Public shaming is Vancouver’s new favourite past-time. Know a rioter? Expose that ass!
But should we be doing this?
Some folks have very different opinions, and the loudest voice one hears on the matter is by local professor & author Alexandra Samuel, who explains her opposition very well in this piece, where she says “We have seen Big Brother, and he is us.”
While Samuels has great points, she is not in the majority on her opinions.

My position on public shaming shifting slightly. I worry about the severity of public outing right now because of the passion with which the entire city has jumped on these guys.
I loathe the extent to which some are taking the public shaming, via printing phone numbers and addresses of parents of rioters, contacting employers, and things like that. (Not cool, people. Don’t be an ass and do that, or initiate contact that way.)
We live in an era where the saying “Pics or it didn’t happen” is ubiquitous. Everything gets caught on video. If you had a camera on me 24/7, you’d find some real good footage for upending people’s thoughts on the person I am. This is true of all of us.
You’d sure as hell never catch me damaging public property, harassing or assaulting others, or flying into physical rages, though. You’d never catch me vandalising, shouting down a cop, shoving a citizen, or even littering.
That’s my ethos, and a lot of citizens share it.
We citizens are tired of the permissiveness with which people litter, vandalise, and generally abuse public spaces. We’re tired of people who get away with acting like assholes.
Maybe it’s time public shaming come into vogue.
Maybe it’s time we stop worrying about politicians with prostitutes, and start worrying about punk-assed people who treat cops like trash, who burn our city up, and who generally don’t seem to contribute to where we want to go as a society.
Destroying their lives, though, may do us more harm as a society than good.
In this instance, I believe we need to offer first-offense rioters a chance to redeem themselves. We need to give them an opportunity to give back instead of destroying. We need to allow them the chance to not throw their lives away over a stupid night in which they maybe chose to embrace a mob mentality when they might have never done otherwise normally.
Then there’s the part of me who feels that there are people on those videos doing heinous, awful things — beating people, blowing shit up. That side of me feels those people don’t get the benefit of the doubt. They don’t deserve it, they deserve to be outed.
In the end, my ambivalence on meting out justice the old-school way, in a court of public opinion, is tempered by the thought of living in a world where everyone felt accountable for their actions.
If people realise that being a jackass for 15 minutes on Youtube can have real long-term life effects, maybe then we’ll see people acting like citizens, not hooligans.
Actions should have consequences. Good citizens should be angered when hooligans act this way. Thugs who attack our police and other citizens deserve to be exposed for who and what they are.
However, just being present at the riot doesn’t mean one is complicit in it. Jumping on a burned-out car isn’t the same as burning it. There are levels of asshattedness going on here, and painting them all with the same brush of ostracism isn’t ideal.
So, I’m still at a loss. To some degree, this public shaming of thugs is long overdue. Hooligan behaviour needs to be seen as unacceptable, not “fun”. We need youth and others to understand that we expect more of citizens.
At the same time, lives can be destroyed by this process, and while I trust my own judgment in reading facts and situations in an equitable manner, I do not trust that others can or will do the same. My ethos is liberal and open-minded, which isn’t always the case with others, so whose idea of “wrong” is right?
The only thing that isn’t questionable for me is, if one is celebrating that kind of destruction, if they’re contributing to it in any way, if they’re cheering it on, then it makes them a douchebag, and maybe it’s in everyone’s interest to know that about ’em.
Beyond saying “Hey, this guy is a rioting douche,” I don’t think we should be doing anything. It’s not up to us to contact their employers, their schools, their family. We don’t have that right, and anyone who does it should be reprimanded.
In the end, Alexandra Samuels has a very valid point — it’s a really slippery slope. It’s a worrisome possible trend when one thinks of ways it might be misused.
But I don’t like the society we’ve become. I don’t like the lack of social responsibility so many show. If this is what it takes to have a society where everyone cares about how the street looks, respects others’ belongings, and treats each other with dignity, then maybe it’s time to stand atop that slippery slope and see if it leads us to a better place.

35 thoughts on “Big Brother & Vancouver: My Thoughts on Crowd Surveillance

  1. Matt

    There’s a rather long and wandering thread about the riots on another forum I read, and generally each time another rioter is publicly identified by the media, there’s a chorus of cheers, usually interrupted by the odd “hasn’t he suffered enough” sort of post (which, naturally, is immediately slammed).
    This course was likewise followed when the case of Nathan Kotylak (the 17-year-old star water polo player who was photographed setting a police car on fire) was mentioned, with a link to the Global video of his prepared “apology”. A couple of posters had, IMHO, very salient statements on this.
    One pointed out that, if you watch the whole interview, he starts out looking very unapologetic, reading words that had no doubt been written largely by daddy’s lawyer… then starts crying as he gets to the “consequences” part, as he starts to fully realize what he stands to lose (being expelled from school, potential scholarships, a spot on Canada’s national water polo team!)
    Another replied with, “Like they say, hindsight is 20/20. He should have realized the consequences before committing arson/attempted arson.”
    This, to me, is the whole issue, and indeed, a large problem with society today, in a nutshell: we’ve been conditioned over the years and generations not to give a moment’s thought to the consequences of our actions, or even consider that there ARE any. Or (and not to sound COMPLETELY right-wing), the natural progression of the “If it feels good, do it” mentality.
    We’re also starting to see more and more stories of people who have been expelled from schools or fired from their jobs because they were caught participating… even one of a guy who was fired just because he was celebrating the whole thing on his Facebook page… the same page where he listed his employer: his employer summoned him to work the next morning and fired him on the spot, stating that those Facebook posts had already negatively impacted the company’s reputation (that story here: http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110618/bc_facebook_riot_comments_fired_110618/20110618/?hub=BritishColumbiaHome).
    As for those who have a problem with this public shaming, I would point out that these rioters have publicly shamed *all of us*. As a die-hard Canucks fan and a “Vancouverite” (in the broader sense, living in the Lower Mainland, if not Vancouver proper), it pisses me off to see outside media painting all of us with the same black brush. I’m pretty sure the 99,000 or so PEACEFUL fans who were downtown that day are pretty sick of being “publicly shamed” by the actions of maybe 1,000-2,000 idiots, too.
    So no, I have NO sympathy. This is ultimate justice. Only a very few of those involved will see any LEGAL repercussions, and the rest would otherwise laugh at the slap on the wrist they would no doubt receive. Not to sound too right-wing again, but this is one of the reasons we see such an increase in youth crime these days: they KNOW they can get away with murder (sometimes, almost literally) because they’ve seen how the legal system works (or doesn’t)… well, NO MORE. People will start to understand, there ARE consequences to their actions. Maybe it will even start a swing the other way, back to more personal responsibility.
    Well… we can hope, anyway…

    Reply
    1. A Scribe Called Steff Post author

      I have no problem with people paying for what they did, but I’m just hoping we let them both pay, learn from it, and move on. We can’t punish ad nauseum, because some people actually do learn lessons, and a first offense is a first offense.
      I’m happy to see consequences happening. I have no problem with folks losing jobs just for celebrating the thing on Facebook, either. It shows who you are, and if your employer has an ethos and disagrees, then that’s great.

      Reply
  2. Chizuko

    I thought your post was much more sensitive and nuanced than the professor whom you cite. I thought the collective outrage, twittered realtime, was a motivating force in what brought a lot of people to recognition . . . much faster than our underpaid and overworked police force might have been able to handle. And it’s the same people ‘big brother’ who also got us out into the streets to do that sweet bit of cleanup the other day. No one wants a Spanish Inquisition, but I think Samuel overstates her case in alluding to Orwell. If Big Brother is me–hoorah! That’s why people were turning themselves in . . . not because the police tracked them down, but because they knew the police were on their way. I agree with your analysis. I am fed up with people making anonymous internet attacks, because ‘no one is watching’. Expose people using the internet for hate and emotional violence. And I would extend that sense of lawlessness–nyah, nyah, can’t catch me–to people who feel unidentifiable in a mob. Actually, you are identifiable. Because we make it so.

    Reply
    1. Matt

      @Chizuko: actually, I think Orwell’s model was more of a “big daddy” or maybe “big uncle”… this is TRULY “big brother”.

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      1. Chizuko

        Good point. Orwell’s model is much more in the North Korean model of ‘our dear and righteous father.’

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      2. A Scribe Called Steff Post author

        Yeah, good point, +1.
        I like the idea of people saying “We expect better.” I’m a little stunned at the intensity of the public outcry, but proud to see we’ve reached that breaking point as a society and that there’s a rallying cry, it seems, of “NO MORE.”

        Reply
    1. A Scribe Called Steff Post author

      I usually just get the “share” link, but I’d rather see a long link than a BIT.LY because I’m too lazy to untiny the link to make sure you’re not spamming my ass, Matt. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Chizuko

    I liked your points a great deal as well, Matt, as I do Steffani’s.
    Please let me be a bit autobiographical. As a transgender person, really come out, I often worry about my public safety (although Vancouver is generally quite safe and supportive. Thank you, Vancouver!) But when the riot broke out, it terrified me in a way that maybe not as many people can understand. Wow, my city is not that safe sometimes. Indeed, drunken louts are the ones who were kicking at my skirt on Friday night, barely days after the riot, mumbling what I can only assume were unkind comments. (They were all drunken UBC students on the 99). And let’s say, fueled with drink, one of them decided to throw a punch or two at me (or you, or anyone). The bus camera might catch a grainy image to be passed along to police. Or someone with a mobile phone might take a closeup. And maybe if that closeup appeared online, a trans woman getting bashed, the culprit might get identified a bit more quickly than VPD who might not be in a rush to get around to my case.
    My views on this are entirely selfish, forgive me. But it’s a selfishness based on real fear.

    Reply
    1. A Scribe Called Steff Post author

      And I think that’s a great example, C. I think people need to realize that the authority figures are having a hard time keeping up with lawlessness, especially in an age where the economy’s so hurt. People like you unfortunately can fall to the wayside.
      If our societal ethos starts saying WE WON’T STAND FOR THAT and we fight back with social naming, maybe one day, after a bumpy road of adjusting, we’ll have more social responsibility on a broader scale, and less chance of this stupidity.
      On the flipside, maybe we increase fear of acting freely. Hopefully this would mostly be used for good.

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  4. Chizuko

    PS: Steff, these are the kinds of posts you do best, in my opinion. I likewise felt your analysis of the Alberta facebook murder trial, involving a friend of your brother’s, was also extremely thoughtful. As you know yourself, you have a much more percussive and earnest writing style than many people (like Samuel) who speak too theoretically to appeal to anyone besides their own circle of ivy leaguers. So I really hope to read more posts like this from you, on civil society and current trends. This is where your writing works best, in my own opinion, appreciatively stated.

    Reply
    1. A Scribe Called Steff Post author

      Aww. Thank you. I really enjoy writing on stuff like this but I have to be moved, I find. Or maybe I just need to push myself to think on these things more. I’ll try. 🙂
      And that means a lot, Anthony, too. Thanks, guys.

      Reply
      1. Chizuko

        Great news, Steffani. No false flattery here. This kind of writing is you at your best — I honestly thought your post on the Altinger (sp?) murder could easily be expanded into an excellent essay length piece that covers some extremely pertinent issues. More of it, in more places. I really look forward to seeing it.

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        1. Chizuko

          PPS: I just added you on FaceBook using my now preferred identity. Excuse me, but I couldn’t send a message for some reason to accompany it. COmpletely optional to ‘add’ me. Just wanted to let you know how much I thought your post was spot on with these topics.
          Thank you,
          Emily

          Reply
          1. A Scribe Called Steff Post author

            Oh, I had already deleted the request before you commented, because there were no common friends listed, which is how I go by. Ack. Now I can’t undo
            it. Probably for the best as I mostly use Facebook for “friends” from real life anyhow. Sigh. Thought it was just some random thing. Strange that you couldn’t send a message!
            I really appreciate you saying my stuff resonates for you, that’s awesome. Thanks. 🙂
            Have a terrific day and keep reading. 🙂

          2. Chizuko

            We were friends in real life. I thought the second name would clue you in. I just hadn’t come out to you yet (^.^) But no offense intended (or taken). I just was sure your FB must be as exciting as your posts.

  5. Trevor

    I agree with you that this is a real grey area-in a long-term scenario.
    Here’s a photo of a guy speeding-quick, call his employer!
    I disagree with you completely on one front:
    “Jumping on a burned-out car isn’t the same as burning it. There are levels of asshattedness going on here, and painting them all with the same brush of ostracism isn’t ideal.”
    I call it all the same. Somebody else did the dirty work for you. How convenient. I don’t think you should be charged with arson, but vandalism just the same.
    A good defense in this case, for me, isn’t “most of the damage was already done..I just added to it”
    Like the water polo kid trying to light the police car on fire. People were saying after that he wasn’t successful in ignition. Who cares! I see pictures of him attempting to light a car on fire. I see photos that imply “intent” to light a car on fire.
    I think we as citizens need to stand up more for each other. Look out for each other.
    And I saw a lot of that happen during, and after the riot.

    Reply
    1. A Scribe Called Steff Post author

      No, I’m saying they’re both crimes, but you can’t legally punish someone who’s not burning the car the same as someone who’s jumping on it.
      It’s like my friend Mark said to me, “Maybe someone didn’t murder a guy on the street, but pissing on his dead body is still defacing a corpse.” And he went on to say it showed a lot about a person’s character, and I do agree.
      But while I’m able to distinguish legally between some of the actions, not all people will.
      And Nathan Kotylak DID try to light the car on fire. He failed, someone else succeeded. I agree he needs to pay for his crimes. I think he should face a one-year suspension for his actions, from the national water polo team, and be forced to travel to high schools talking to kids about why he regrets his actions, how he’s paying, and all of that. I believe he should be on academic probation, and also have to do civic services for the city of Vancouver, in a pretty sizable chunk, of, say, 100 hours or more.
      He’s SO guilty in the public eyes that it will take a LOT of work to overcome the damage he’s done himself, but wouldn’t you love to see him try?
      I think he should have the opportunity to earn his way back into society, as with any rioter who committed a first offense and otherwise has a good record beforehand. Hence why it’s called a “first offense.”
      Someone like Dustin Anderson, who was physically assault officers, and who’s got photos posing with guns and acting like a hoodlum, I’m less “second chance” about, and maybe that’s me stereotyping, but I’d rather not err on the side of completely wrecking lives without offering the chance of redemption.
      It’s a difficult time for Vancouver and settling the fall-out will be a challenge.

      Reply
  6. Ed

    As far as I’m concerned, these peoole stole from us…from me, from you because we will be paying for all this with our taxes, insurance rates and civic pride. I don’t think of it as any different than if they simply broke into my house and destroyed it. The costs will be the same, maybe not in scale but definitely the same idea.
    If someone straight up broke into your house and stole from you, would you have the same doubts? Probably not. People would cry for justice much like they are right now and they would be justified. Why is it then that so many are chalking this one up to mob mentality and a momentary lapse of judgment? No one would think like that if they stole from their home but in fact, that’s exactly what they’ve done…most people just haven’t put that together.
    We can’t be lenient here or it will just happen again. Vancouver’s silly culture of allowable protest and crime in the name of “social issues” is badly misguided and makes not only the causes they champion lool silly bt it basically makes all of us look like morons. Oh, the city put on an awesome outdoor party for us? Let’s tear this place apart!
    I am in favor of whatever these punks have coming. Not only because it is just but we all know that if they aren’t punished, it will just happen again.

    Reply
    1. A Scribe Called Steff Post author

      I don’t think our opinions are that different, Ed. I just think there’s a limit to how much we should be doing beyond identifying these people publicly. There’s where it should stop.
      There’s a fuzzy line of how much public backlash is too much. Kotylak’s father having to shut down his medical offices because of the deluge of phone calls isn’t part of the deal — not for me. His parents being embarrassed and publicly compelled to force their son to step up? Great — but not via people publishing their phone numbers as a brand of social justice.
      But I say post their pictures and name names.

      Reply
  7. Matt

    Hey Steff, I wanted to add a comment relating to that Globe article you tweeted…
    There’s a big us-or-them dichotomy happening that I think is really unfortunate, because it detracts from a big part of the underlying cause. The whole “it was anarchists/no it was just fans” thing is ridiculous – it was BOTH, of course.
    I don’t recall the VPD ever claiming it was ONLY anarchists – they stated it was INCITED by a group INCLUDING anarchists, some of whom they said were the same ones who tried (and failed) to start a riot the opening weekend of the Olympics.
    Nobody’s denying that it didn’t spread to “the common man”… but when you have that many people in close proximity, extreme amounts of alcohol, a heartbreaking rallying point (in this case, the loss of a championship game, but it could be anything), and enough peer pressure to crush a city… there was one big human Molotov cocktail stewing, and it didn’t take much of a spark to set it off. And THERE WERE PEOPLE WHO WERE THERE WITH THE SOLE INTENT OF PROVIDING THAT SPARK.
    So let’s place the blame where it belongs: ON BOTH GROUPS. And maybe a little on the city and the police for being under-prepared. And honestly, a little on the media for spending the last two months speculating on the possibility of something happening, thus handily planting some seeds that had been germinating for weeks. (That leads to a whole other rant that I won’t even get into here).

    Reply
  8. NaughtyGnosiophile

    It’s nice to see level-headed thinking instead of the very tempting blind rage! Kudos.
    I believe that punishment has its uses, as long as they are *compassionate* uses. I liken it to teaching a misbehaving child. We let them know that what they have done is wrong, let them step up and take responsibility, and re-engage and make amends with those around them.
    I don’t think the level of public humiliation and rage directed at the rioters is conducive to this compassionate end. I think it is the blind excercise of our innate ostracizing mechanism (from evolutionary psychology). We indignantly and hypocritically point fingers hoping that it will ease the pain of our anger, but it only fuels that pain.
    If we take that 17 year old athlete as an example, I think the backlash against him is way out of proportion. How many of us have never done something really, really stupid as a teenager? So he lit a car on fire. Then make him work and pay for the car, apologize to the owner. But making him a public example? No, that’s child abuse.
    So we might say that adults “should know better”. Can’t we *all* know better? Are there any of us who are infinitely wise? Haven’t we all done equally stupid things as adults? I’ve always maintained that punishment should be a means to an end, and not an end in itself.
    In a sense, all the backlash is yet another riot, condemning the riot.

    Reply
    1. Chizuko

      “How many of us have never done something really, really stupid as a teenager? So he lit a car on fire.”
      How exactly would you define what acts constitute stupidity? He attempted to blow up a police car, via the petrol tank no less, in a densely crowded area. Had the police car blown up — which often happens when you try to light an automobile on fire — would your feelings be different? Or, were it your car enduring this mistreatment, would you chalk it up to youthful naivety?
      I’m really with Steffani on this one: “more social responsibility on a broader scale”. I can accept that he may in some way — multiple ways, I would hope — seek to make reparations. But I refuse to accept this ‘twinkie defense’ line of thinking–spontaneously bad choices chalked up to youthful enthusiasm and hormonal pulsing. And that’s exactly the subtext whenever one argues for a leniency based on doing something ‘stupid as a teenager’. Yes, I did things that were not the wisest. Arson and experiments in public demolitions are not listed amongst them.

      Reply
      1. NaughtyGnosiophile

        I’m not arguing for leniency. I’m arguing for us to keep the right goals in mind when dishing out punishment. We have, partially by hardwiring, and partially by cultural indoctrination, a tendency to use the principle of “greater punishment for greater crime”. I tend to concentrate more on the questions, what are we trying to fix? how are we going to fix it? Yes, greater punishment for greater crime works to some degree, but it is only meaningful within the greater context of how it will benefit the greater good. If we concentrate on solutions rather than retribution, it opens us up to more possibilities for problem solving.
        My “defence” of the 17 year old was not meant to condone or downplay the severity of his actions, but merely to remind ourselves to not get too comfortable on our high horses. The attitude that “I would never do something like that” makes me think of a George Carlinism: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
        I’m going to assume that we all have a free will to choose our actions, because responsibility would be meaningless without free will. But notice also that our “free will”, and even our possible thoughts and attitudes, are largely influenced by our individual experiences. How can I really say for sure that my “free will” when placed within the context of his experience and upbringing, would choose to not light the car on fire? We would like to believe we wouldn’t but can we really say for sure? I don’t think we honestly can.
        There have been at least few occasions where I’ve lectured somebody on some moral issue and thought, “wow, what an immoral person”. Then I think about it a bit more, and that virtuous value that I held as my own, I remember it being taught to me by my parents. Well perhaps that kid’s parents are “fucking pricks” that didn’t teach him any better. Should a kid with a malleable mind be punished for having dumb parents? I’m just speculating here, but that’s just the point: I don’t know anything about that kid, other than he lit a car on fire. That is way not enough information to make a judgement about his character.
        Anyways, I’m actually trying to get away from making judgements because I find them counter-productive.
        I’m arguing for compassionate punishment rather than what I see of mostly retributive punishment.

        Reply
        1. Chizuko

          “So he lit a car on fire”, which had the aura of a shrug to it, seemed a bit glib and understated of a response. I’m not sure why you must recast the situation in more softcore terms. The additional use of scare quotes around free will, intended once again to displace responsibility in favor of circumstances, confirms where you would prefer this discussion to go . . . away from the action and toward the supposition. No thanks.
          I didn’t really see you examining the questions — I saw you making assessments about his capacity for judgment in connection to his age: you took our friend the polo player as an example.
          And then there’re more scare quotes about “dumb parents” . . . his father was chief surgeon at the local hospital, so I assume he’s “clever” in an intellectual sense. Is he an effective parent? I don’t know. I’m not sure whether or not that has much to do with trying to blow up police cars. But I’ll leave that to a developmental psychologist. But you know how much ‘National Post’ readers love this line of digression.
          And your message concludes with another generic description: “he lit a car on fire.” It makes me wonder why you’re so unwilling to describe the event for what it was. Try reading some recent news reports from the North of Ireland about what fire + cars + crowds can equal.
          I’m not sure what compassionate punishment entails, exactly. So far really nothing has happened. Or what little has happened is owing entirely to the social force of citizens standing up for their city. Hence my initial agreement with Steff. No one here is championing an Inquisition. But we’re pleased to see the process of justice accelerated through civil effort. Were it not for that picture of the “[police] car lit on fire [via the petrol tank, in a densely crowded urban space” he’d be at water polo practice right now.

          Reply
          1. NaughtyGnosiophile

            Perhaps I should clarify that I’m not trying to excuse anybody’s behaviour. What I’m trying to do is understand what is going on, which includes understanding our own response to the riot, putting it under the microscope, and how our response itself affects our society. The ultimate goal — and I believe we share this goal — is to create a place where people act with decency and respect.
            “I’m not sure why you must recast the situation in more softcore terms.”
            What I’m doing is trying to have a level-headed, dispassionate analysis, which is sometimes misunderstood as downplaying the gravity of a situation. I’ll illustrate via an example.
            Let’s say a young girl is raped. From the inside, human view, we are outraged at the rapist. We want him to pay and suffer for his crime. A scientist might look at the situation and ask questions like, is there any genetic disposition towards rape? How did rape behaviour play into our evolution and survival as a species? Are there environmental or sociological triggers that produce a tendency to rape? The purpose of asking these questions is not to excuse the rapist for his behaviour. With more knowledge, we are better equipped to prevent rapes from happening in the future, which is the exact same goal that we have in mind — or that we should have in mind — when we push for his punishment. If we mete out punishment without having an end goal in mind, then we are just blindly satisfying our ostracization instinct.
            “The additional use of scare quotes around free will, intended once again to displace responsibility in favor of circumstances”
            Not sure what you mean by scare quotes. I just put free will in quotes to acknowledge how much of our free will is guided and shaped by our biology, developmental psychology, culture, etc. This is not to say that circumstance completely admonishes somebody from acting responsibly. In the same way, acknowledging free will does not mean comletely ignoring their circumstance. I think over emphasis on either side is detrimental. If we write everything off to circumstance, that just gives us an excuse to be irresponsible, which is why I said, “I’m going to assume that we all have a free will to choose our actions, because responsibility would be meaningless without free will.” I think we agree on this point. At the same time, if we ignore circumstance altogether, or even if we underestimate the power of circumstance, then we lose compassion for each other, which is counter-productive to our goal of mutual love and respect.
            “I didn’t really see you examining the questions — I saw you making assessments about his capacity for judgment in connection to his age: you took our friend the polo player as an example.”
            You’re right, I didn’t really go into examining the questions, which is what I’m getting at now. Also, to clarify, I was not making assessments about his capacity for judgement. I was just asking speculative questions, the answers to all of which, I don’t know. Hence, I was questioning our over-eagerness to judge him.
            “I’m not sure whether or not that has much to do with trying to blow up police cars. But I’ll leave that to a developmental psychologist. But you know how much ‘National Post’ readers love this line of digression.”
            Correct me if I’m wrong, but this sounds a little dismissive. Neuroscience is in a renaissance period at the moment. We are learning a tremendous amount about how our brains work and what makes us tick. Plus, there are a lot of scientists who write books for the general public in an accessible and engaging manner. This is not a digression. It’s highly pertinent to understanding ourselves, and understanding the tool we use think, converse, make judgements about events and other people. If we have cognitive biases, dissonances, then it pays to know about them and factor those in to evaluating our judgements.
            “It makes me wonder why you’re so unwilling to describe the event for what it was. Try reading some recent news reports from the North of Ireland about what fire + cars + crowds can equal.”
            We must recognize that we cannot know things as they are in themselves and that our knowledge is subject to the conditions of our experience. That’s Kant, not me. But I agree with him. We can’t know that the way we perceive something is actually as it is. It might, be, but we can’t know.
            You view the act as similar to the terrorism in Ireland. I view it more as a teenager chock full of testosterone, doing what testosterone does best, joining in on the mass hysteria, without premeditated intent to kill. These are both perspectives, and there are an infinite number of them to choose from. But none of them represents anything as it really is.
            “I’m not sure what compassionate punishment entails, exactly.”
            I am so glad you said this, because it really is the main thrust of what I was trying to say. Compassionate punishment is about an attitude, an approach to punishment. Compare our attitude when punishing our own child as opposed to punishing criminals. When we punish our child for hitting another child, we want them to learn that other people have feelings too, we want them to have social skills, be a virtuous, compassionate, successful and happy. What we don’t do is post their picture on the internet, point fingers at them with glee and say, “Haha, what a despicable child, go die in hell.”
            When it comes to people who aren’t our children, I think it is more productive to have that same kind of attitude. What would we like them to learn in all of this? What is the best way for them to become happy, successful people? How can we integrate them back into society? How are we going to muster up the strength to forgive them? How happy will we be for all of us when they’ve redeemed themselves? These are much more useful questions than trying to measure the degree of their offence, and match it against a corresponding punishment based on that.
            I’ll give an example of when the “greater punishment for the greater crime” paradigm falls apart. Let’s say somebody calls somebody else a fag and beats the crap out of him. Under this paradigm, we would classify this as a hate crime, and call for increased punishment because of the heinousness of the act. But how does increased punishment of a hate crime help alleviate the situation? If anything, it makes the person hate homosexuals even more, exacerbating the problem. If we thought about solutions instead, it allows us to be more creative. Hate crimes arise from ignorance and disconnectedness, which gives rise to fear. I would argue that having that person volunteer for LGBT groups is much more useful. That may be viewed as more lenient than jail, but who cares because it’s more useful.
            This is getting to be a really long comment, but I guess it’s because I’m passionate about the issue, as I can tell that you are too. This is a good thing. I’d take passionate disagreement over apathetic agreement any day. Although, I don’t think we’re really disagreeing all that much. We may just have different approaches to a common goal.

  9. panzerfan

    We can argue to no end regarding positive vs. negative reinforcement. However, we cannot deny that those of us that contemplate on such matters will, to the best of our abilities, avoid mirroring this all-too-recent history, lest us succumb to eternal mockery; acts of idiocy are now immortal.
    We must keep in mind however, that the citizenry are not expected to be held to the same level of professional duties to that of the media on the matter of dissemination of information. The citizenry can say all they want and verbally conduct ostracism on an individual, but such action would have no legal enforcement power. The only reason why such are “de facto” sentence stems from social consequences which the court of law does not factor upon. The citizens are entitled to make blog posts and voice out their opinions, so long as they do not violate the criminal codes or slander individuals.
    We must be very careful in suggesting that ‘social consequences’ are actually criminal sentences or that of damages awarded to torts. Social consequences in the form of public ostracism do not constitute a violation of any individual’s protected rights under law. In short, this mighty shaming mechanism has few legal impediments to exercise, making the only check largely that of the moral realm.
    Ultimately, I rather see this as a warning about self discretion. One should not naively expect anonymity, be that of in public settings or when one is trolling online. One should fully be aware that such unfortunate ‘lapse of judgment’ can taint an individual’s reputation henceforth. The flesh search phenomenon, which first lit in China, is now fully with us; blog post is mightier than the sword.

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  10. Raul

    I had a very long response (4,000 words) to the crowd-surveillance posts (my view is that online lynching is not a good idea, but that the rioters definitely must pay for what they did). But I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted. The truth of the matter is that nothing is black or white, one criminal act doesn’t describe a life and there is no such thing as privacy anymore. We live in a networked society and as such, we must accept that what is private to me, may not be private to others. Whether those others have a right to invade or remove our privacy (as Facebook and Google continue to do) is debatable, but it’s smarter to simply not do anything in public that we don’t want to have broadcast to the world. I’m fully accepting that by commenting on your blog I’m letting people judge my views, and that’s part of being a member of a networked society. Think responsibly, write responsible, speak responsibly and act responsibly, whichever definition of responsibility applies to you.
    Great post, Steff, and great comments everyone. I had let this one go a while ago, but in checking a few posts, this has been a great debate. You have great readers, Steff.

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  11. justsomeguy

    Matt said above
    “we’ve been conditioned over the years and generations not to give a moment’s thought to the consequences of our actions, or even consider that there ARE any. Or (and not to sound COMPLETELY right-wing), the natural progression of the “If it feels good, do it” mentality”
    this sounds alot like “it isn’t their fault, it is society’s fault”. While I can agree that we are “products of our environment” every person is responsible for themself and their actions. “We” haven’t all been conditioned over the years in some ethereal “no-sense” patterning, some people are just idiots, act like idiots and should be held to account. “We” don’t all commit to acts of idiocy, but “we” all suffer the consequences when new laws are rushed into place affecting all of us. Punish the criminals, not the public.

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  12. matt

    “this sounds alot like ‘it isn’t their fault, it is society’s fault’”.
    Nice try, but you’ve latched onto one phrase and completely missed my point in the process. If you don’t get it, then there’s no point trying to explain it to you. Thanks for playing though…

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